Chancellor says trans-Pennine high-speed link connecting Manchester and Leeds would drive economies of the North

George Osborne has floated plans for a new trans-Pennines high-speed rail link connecting Manchester and Leeds in move aimed as creating a “northern powerhouse” city economy to rival London.

In a speech in Manchester this week, the chancellor outlined plans for a new northern high-speed rail link, arguing that better transport connectivity was vital if the north of England was to compete with London and the South-east.

Improving transport connectivity in the north of England was one of Sir David Higgins’ key recommendations when he took over the role of HS2 chair in March, and Osborne said Higgins had made a convincing case that to reap the benefits of HS2 “you should create much faster rail links across the Pennines”.

He said: “We need an ambitious plan to make the cities and towns here in this northern belt radically more connected from east to west - to create the equivalent of travelling around a single global city.

“I want us to start thinking about whether to build a new high-speed rail connection east-west from Manchester to Leeds.

“Based on the existing rail route, but speeded up with new tunnels and infrastructure.

“A third high-speed railway for Britain.”

One of Higgins’ key recommendations was that the construction of the second phase of HS2 - a “Y” from Crewe to both Manchester and Leeds - be considered alongside further improvements to trans-Pennine connections linking Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull.

The move was a bid to address critics of HS2, who have said that improving north-south connections will simply boost the London economy, and that northern cities would benefit more from greater  connections to each other.

Higgins’ report in effect calls for both to be prioritised.

Responding to Higgins’ report in March, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he had asked both HS2 and Network Rail to make recommendations for changes to the existing network before the government responds to the current consultation on the second phase of HS2.

The government is expected to respond before the end of the year.

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, said Higgins’ had made a convincing case that to reap the benefits of HS2 “you should create much faster rail links across the Pennines”.

“So this work is underway; it’s not just about railways, it’s also about roads where of course a lot of journeys take place in people’s cars and buses.

“It’s about trying to make sure - I think England has this unique opportunity with these very large conurbations that can be brought together to create the kind of economies of scale that you see in these enormous cities elsewhere in the world.”